Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 11
“Huwwy, Auntie Charli! We’re waiting for you.” Sophie waved her hands in the air as if her life depended on how quickly Charli would reach them. Kean laughed and tugged on her feet.
“Calm down, Squirrel,” he said, his tone sweet but firm.
She’d started to like his endearment for his niece. When he was with Sophie he morphed into a cute, mellow version of the annoying man he was with her. She had no doubt he would make a good father one day—and his wife would be a lucky woman. Not that she cared.
Yes, you do.
Ah, shut up.
She winced inwardly. She should really stop having conversations in her mind.
Charli approached the trio, and Kean let her walk ahead as they headed out to his car. He’d already fixed the car seats before Adam left, so he pulled Sophie off his shoulders and expertly put her in her pink seat, while Sammy waited for his turn. She didn’t trust herself with helping out, so she waited by the side of the car until Kean was done.
“Do you need me to buckle you up, or are you okay?” He turned to her with a cheeky grin that made her blood boil.
She huffed and opened the car door with so much force she thought she’d pull out the handle. He chuckled as he got behind the wheel and pulled out onto the street.
Sophie immediately became engrossed in a chat with Sammy which, as usual, was a non-stop monologue, while the adults stared in silence at the road ahead.
“So, the news about Ellie and Adam… well, wow,” Kean said a moment later.
“Yeah, wow. I knew they wouldn’t wait long, but this is fast.” Ellie had shared her and Adam’s plan to have a big family, but seriously, this was fast by any standards. Well, at least Charli could be sure they’d made the most of their short honeymoon.
“Did you see their faces, though? Not a hint of regret. Adam’s met his match.” He smiled as he spoke. “I have no doubt they’ll end up with a football team in their house.”
Charli chuckled. Yeah, her thoughts exactly. She’d loved seeing the glow on her friend’s face, the adoration in her eyes when she looked at her husband, and the way Adam was already ultra-protective of her and the baby.
Kean pulled into the driveway of a tiny bungalow that had seen better days. He killed the engine and looked at her. “Can you stay in the car with Sophie while I take Sammy inside?”
Charli nodded. She still didn’t feel at ease being left alone with Sophie, but since she was buckled in her car seat she couldn’t possibly do any harm, right?
Sophie said goodbye to her friend, then launched into a monologue that made Charli slightly dizzy. She was happy when Kean finally got into the car.
“Hey, Squirrel, has Auntie Charli been a good girl?” he asked, smiling at his niece. Sophie nodded, and he turned back in his seat, grinning at Charli. “Good. Let’s go home then.”
He focused on the road, but the quiet in the car was causing her brain to work overtime, thinking all kinds of unwelcome thoughts she wasn’t supposed to.
“Thanks for helping us today,” she said eventually, unable to come up with a better topic for conversation. “I suppose painting fairy trees wasn’t in the curriculum in architectural college.”
He smiled. “It was fun. I always help out with the festival, but I’d never painted fairy trees before. I can add that to my résumé now.” He took his eyes off the road just long enough to wink at her. “So, are you going to stay for the festival?”
She shrugged. “Not sure. It depends on whether I find a job in the meantime.” Because, even though she’d enjoyed spending the last couple of weeks organizing this event, her plan still included leaving this place and going back to city life.
“It would be a pity if you left before you saw the results of your efforts though.” Kean’s tone wasn’t accusatory, just very matter-of-fact, but it was enough to annoy her. And to make her wonder why she cared about what he thought, anyway.
“Well, I’m not exactly a fan of small-town life, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I’d sort of figured that out.” He glanced briefly in the rearview mirror, before settling his eyes on her. “But if you’d only give our town a chance, you might change your mind.” His grin wasn’t the usual ultra-annoying one he seemed to reserve just for her. It was a genuine, friendly, even cute smile that reached all the way to his eyes. She hated that she actually felt that smile down to her stomach. It was just the remnants of that dream, but sooner or later they’d fade and she’d be okay, right?
“What, do you have a second job at the tourism office and get paid a commission every time a tourist decides to stay?” Being sassy and snarky seemed to be the best antidote to the funny feelings the memory of that dream still caused her.
He chuckled and, dang, she felt it all the way to her toes. She’d had quite enough of all this nonsense by now, thanks very much.
“Is it so wrong to like my hometown?” His tone was serious and slightly incredulous, as if he found it impossible that someone could not understand his love for Spring Harbor.
Charli shrugged. “I like the city I grew up in, but I don’t go around singing its praises to everyone I meet.”
“Maybe that’s because your city”—he said the word scrunching up his nose—“can’t hold a candle to our town.”
She rolled her eyes. The guy had obviously never been to San Antonio—or quite possibly to any other place outside his town.
“So what, are you suggesting I should hire a guide and take a full sightseeing tour of your town?” She puckered her lips and pretended to think. “’Cause I might have thirty minutes to spare tomorrow.”
“Ha ha, that’s a funny one,” he said without a hint of humor in his tone. “But no, I was thinking about showing you the best spots of our town atop a saddle.” He chuckled when Charli tilted her head to the side and widened her eyes. “My father has two horses, which have sort of become mine now. He took them in when their owners decided they weren’t worth the vet expenses. But since he hardly has time to look after them during the day, I take turns with my grandpa at playing cowboy. So, would you like to join me on an adventurous tourist ride tomorrow?”
The challenge in his tone was all it took for her resolution to stay away from him to snap. Maybe it was because of growing up with three older brothers, but she never backed down from a challenge. “Fine, I’ll let you show me the beauties of your town.”
He grinned. “I’ll wait for you at my parents’, around ten?”
“I’ll be there, Bob.” Even though she had a feeling accepting this stupid challenge was going to come back and bite her in the butt.
“Eek! You didn’t say there would be dogs!” Charli shrank behind Kean and squeaked as Rango, Ruby, and Rascal, his parents’ three golden retriever puppies and Meatball’s siblings, came barreling toward the two humans who’d just walked into the stables.
She’d shown up at five minutes to ten, wearing a pair of tight jeans, which he knew would probably be the cause of him falling off his horse, a blue sweater, and a silver, light down jacket. And instead of sexy shoes, she was wearing a pair of light blue sneakers. He’d had a hard time taking his eyes off her when she got out of the car and walked up to his parents’ porch, and he had no idea how he’d managed to keep his hands to himself while they walked side by side to the stables.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of puppies.” He took a step forward, and she hung on to him, pulling him in front of her. Having her deliciously curvy body pressed against him made his brain a little fuzzy, and he nearly tripped over his own feet.
“They have teeth. Sharp teeth.”
“They’re barely seven months old and all they care about is finding a new play buddy and getting belly and ear rubs.” He turned his head to look at her over his shoulder with a grin. “What, are you afraid they’ll bite you in the butt?”
“I’m more worried about my ankles, thank you very much.”
He chuckled as he crouched down
“Yeah, yeah, love you too, pup.”
A squeak coming from above him told him one of the puppies had come to welcome Charli. He stood up and couldn’t hold back a chuckle at the sight of Charli skipping in circles, jumping from one foot to the other with Ruby chasing after her.
“Don’t laugh! Get this beast away from me!” she screamed, letting out a high-pitched shriek when the puppy jumped up with her paws on Charli’s leg. “Eek! He’s attacking me, do something!” she said, when Ruby did it again, letting out a happy yap.
“It’s a she, and she only wants to play. She’s never going to hurt you.”
He took a step toward them and reached for the puppy just as Charli hoisted herself up onto one of the wooden fences that enclosed the horses. His eyes followed her movements, even as he picked up Ruby, and they landed on her shapely butt, emphasized by the tight jeans she was wearing. A cold sweat broke out across his forehead.
Take your eyes off her butt before she sees you, dude! his mind ordered, and he reluctantly complied. The puppy wriggled in his arms, licked his chin and let out a yap. Charli jumped off the fence and into Raindrop’s stall as soon as he took a step closer to her. The brown horse whinnied, and she patted its snout.
“I didn’t expect a tough, Southern gal like you to be scared of three sweet puppies.”
“He wanted to bite me!”
He rolled his eyes. “She just wanted to play and get cuddles.”
“She wanted to snack on my flesh. Did you see her fangs?”
Kean opened Ruby’s mouth and inspected her teeth. “I’m pretty sure these were golden retriever puppies last I checked. Unless they’ve turned into bloodthirsty wild wolves when I wasn’t paying attention.”
She let out a very audible sigh of exasperation. “They’re sharp. I’d probably need stitches.”
“Drama queen,” he said over a fake cough.
“You’re as frustratingly annoying as, as…” She stomped her foot. “Ugh! As sand in your panties!”
He laughed out loud, and the puppies all joined in with a choir of happy barks. “Now that’s a first. I’ve been told I’m funny, generous, handsome, sexy—someone even told me I smell deliciously good—but I’ve never been compared to sand in someone’s panties.”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Humble. Are you also going to tell me how many women tripped all over themselves to steal your heart, now?” She crossed her arms on her chest, and his eyes went of their own volition to the curves underneath her sweater. “And, seriously? Saying you smell deliciously good is such a cheesy line, I hope you steered clear from that one.”
Kean smiled. Nope, he hadn’t exactly steered clear. If she hadn’t passed out on him, and hadn’t been drunk, who knew where that kiss might have led. He put the puppy down, then picked up a tennis ball from the floor and tossed it out of the door. Just like he’d expected, all three dogs ran after it. He turned and smiled.
“The coast is clear. You can come out now. Your life’s no longer in danger.”
She let out a huff, then turned toward Raindrop and patted the horse’s muzzle. “Don’t you ever want to buck him off? ’Cause you totally have my blessing, just sayin’.”
Kean laughed. “You’re talking to the most easy-going and imperturbable horse in the world.” He rubbed his hand up and down the horse’s cheek. “Just sayin’.”
“Fine, okay. Let’s just do what we came here for, before I change my mind.”
She unlatched the door and stepped out, purposely stomping her feet and making him laugh. His eyes dropped to her butt as she passed him by, and he had to restrain himself from reaching out and finding out for himself if it was as soft as it looked. These insane thoughts were going to get him in big trouble.
* * *
“Why don’t you wait outside while I get the horses ready?” As Kean bridled Raindrop a couple of minutes later, he made sure to keep his back to Charli. He still had to cool down from the crazy thoughts that had been playing on a loop since Charli had hoisted herself onto that fence, and he feared she might notice where his mind had been just a few minutes before.
“I can help you. I know how to saddle a horse. Shall I take the black one? What’s its name?”
Kean’s hands froze on the strap he was tightening, and he turned his head around. “You know how to do it?”
She tsked. “I’m Texan. I was born on a horse, sugar.”
Kean laughed. The way she drawled the words to emphasize the southern accent was as funny as it was sexy. Yeah, and he should probably stop putting Charli and sexy in the same sentence.
“Okay. Let’s get these babies saddled so I can show you the woods.”
“Who do you think I am, Little Red Riding Hood?” She crossed her arms over her chest and glowered. And man, was she hot when she sent him those death glares. “I’m not going into the woods with you. For all I know, you’ll take me into the thickest part and leave me there to find my way back.”
“Or I could kill you and bury you in the remotest part. Don’t forget that possibility.” He winked as he patted Raindrop’s neck. Charli’s lips trembled a little as she tried not to smile. “I’ve never denied your assumption that I was a serial killer, after all. And I don’t think you have your, uh, gun with you right now. Not that it would make any difference.”
Her cheeks flushed, but he wasn’t sure whether it was shame or anger. Maybe a bit of both. He laughed. He loved winding her up.
Charli spun around at the sound of his grandpa’s voice. Her frown softened and she smiled. For a moment, Kean wished that smile was for him—until his mind reminded him that the only thing he’d ever get from her were glares.
“Hi, Mr. Cavanagh.”
“Pfft. None of that ‘Mr. Cavanagh’ business. Ladies call me Eamon.”
At eighty-one, Kean’s grandpa had more charm than all of his grandchildren combined. Whether it was the Irish brogue he still had, or his natural charisma, ladies always went all giggly and coy when he turned on his charm. To prove his point, Charli giggled. He’d never heard that sound come out of her sassy mouth before, and he was a little annoyed that it had to be his old grandfather to bring it out of her. For some inexplicable and probably totally insane reason, he wanted to be the one to make her giggle like that.
“So, is my grandson taking you for a ride?”
The suggestive way he waggled his eyebrows even while keeping a straight face made Charli blush.
“I thought I’d show Charli the beauty and tranquility of our woods. See if I can convince her that our small town can offer things big cities can’t.” Kean adjusted the last strap on Black Thunder’s saddle and patted his side. “But she’s scared I’ll chop her to pieces and bury her body in the thick of the woods. Perhaps you can vouch for me, Gramps?”
Eamon chuckled. “Don’t worry, love. He’s harmless.”
“See? And now there is a witness, so if I come back alone, he’ll know something happened to you and he’ll call the cops.”
He looked at Charli with a grin, and her only response was a very dramatic eye-roll. She gripped the saddle horn to hoist herself up, and swung her right leg over Raindrop’s back. His eyes focused on her legs for a second too long.
His grandpa clearing his throat brought him back. When Kean spun to get on the saddle, the smug smile on Eamon’s face needed no words. Kean shook his head and shot him a Don’t even go there look that only served to make the old man laugh out loud.
“Enjoy the ride, kids.” Eamon tucked his hands in the pockets of his pants and took a step toward the barn housing his workshop, where he and Adam created their artisanal furniture. “I won’t tell your brother you’ve taken a lady into the woods, don’t you worry. Y
“There’s no secret to tell, Gramps. I only want to show her around.”
“’Course you do.” The soft chuckle that followed told Kean all he needed to know about where Eamon’s thoughts had gone.
He turned his horse around and was glad to notice that Charli had already trotted away and, hopefully, had missed Eamon’s innuendos.
“Hurry up, Bob. I don’t want to be trapped in the woods after sunset. With you, on top of it all.”
Kean hung his head and smiled, then squeezed his calves, urging Black Thunder to catch up with Charli and Raindrop. All of a sudden, he wasn’t so sure that asking her to join him on a ride had been such a smart idea.
* * *
Kean and his grandfather were right. The woods were amazing around here. It looked even better than the Government Canyon State Natural Area near San Antonio that she’d visited a couple of times with her family when she was little. And she’d thought that was wonderful. She might be a city girl, but her parents had raised her to appreciate nature. Their annual family vacation always included a visit to a state park or a natural area where the six of them could forget the chaotic and noisy city life for a few days.
As soon as they left the Cavanaghs’ ranch behind and ventured onto a path that led up a low hill, the only sound was the horses’ hooves on the grass-covered earth. Kean didn’t utter a word and the rhythmic sound soothed her, nearly lulling her to sleep. As the path led them into thick woods, the sounds of nature around them, the birds chirping in the trees, water streaming and gurgling somewhere in the distance, and the sound of her own breathing, brought on a sense of peace that made her throat constrict.
“This is beautiful,” she said, her voice coming out awed.
“Glad you like it.”
That was it? She wanted to get a conversation going and that was all he was going to contribute to it?
“You know, I still haven’t gotten used to the quiet. It’s… eerie, at times.”
Other author's books:
- Saved by an AngelUnplanned Love: A Love In Spring novelThe melody in our hearts
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